August 23, 2023

F101: Flag Wavers, Car Savers, and Major Corner Players

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The mystery of the best seat in the house has finally been solved. It involves a little more than your average grandstand, GA, or hospitality, but the views are truly unparalleled. Settle into the marshal’s box and experience the race from a new angle. 

Posted all around the track and in the paddock, volunteers help keep racers safe and on track. Flagging, communicating, and intervening, marshals are the eyes, ears, and hands trackside—there to provide vital track condition information to teams or put out fires. Back in the paddock, find pit and grid marshals keeping track of pit stops, scrutineers checking tires, starters counting laps and waving green flags, and marshal support running water, lunch, radios, and anything else out to the boxes around track. 

Other vital staff include trained professionals like firefighters, EMS, tow-truck drivers, hospital staff, and track cleaners, and repairmen—all ensuring the Circuit can stay hot. 

While the FIA updates its regulatory handbook at least twice annually, the job of marshalling and scrutineering hasn’t changed much over the years. What has changed is technology. COTA recently invested in permanent digital flags to use in all motorsport events. Though physical flags are still used and an iconic part of racing, digital flags are becoming commonplace in series around the world.  

This means marshals from across the globe are familiar with the standards at COTA, from Canada and Great Britain to India and Hungary. While exploring the track, keep an eye out for different decorated stands, like the iconic Mexico box. 

“I’ve worked events at COTA since 2012. Through those years, I’ve met many different marshals and there is a typical theme: ‘love of the sport of racing.’ The marshals travel from all over the U.S. and from other countries just to support these events…most of the time, unnoticed and behind the scenes,” said Gary Beschle, Part-time and Volunteer Marshal at COTA, who, with a long history of racing and “turning the wrench,” is planning on retiring at the end of this year. 

Going into its 11th Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, COTA has numerous volunteers that have worked the race since day one. In 2022, Ed Kajko was recognized for 10 years of service. He was picked up from his box before the race ended, brought to the drivers’ holding room outside the podium, and was thanked by last year’s podium winners for his decade helping keep them safe. 

“Watch the camaraderie at the end of the day. They all go to dinner together in Lot N and you can hear stories from 50 years ago at different tracks. A lot of people go up there just to socialize and get to know each other. Some of these guys see each other once a year and it’s at our race,” said Mike Williamson, Track Safety & Motorsports Operations Manager. 

Though in 2023 about 1,500 prospective volunteers applied, previous marshalling and race experience is required. By the time race weekend rolls around, less than 500 applicants will be a part of the team. For the best chance for potential American volunteers, get experience via SCCA or the Sports Car Club of America (bonus points if you have an SCCA license). Volunteers join the staff Thursday to Sunday in exchange for food, water, on-site camping, merch, and the best seat in the house. 

While this year’s application has closed, positions are still open for year-round part-time marshals! Get valuable experience for the 2024 USGP and a view of what goes on at the track the other 360 days of the year. 

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